A Sister to Butterflies, Prologue

With the lamps dimmed and the remainder of the household settled, the old lady drifted into the nursery to begin her vigil.

She sighed, because while by all meaningful measures she was ageless, she very much thought of herself now as an old lady, and knew better than most that perception was key to the definition of anything — or anyone. Her own personal perception was that each wretched tick of the clock was but another tug of an unyielding current towing her ever further into the fathomless, desolate sea upon which she'd long been helplessly, hopelessly cast.

She chided herself with a small smile. Even after so much time her tendency toward melodrama still enjoyed the company of her penchant for self-pity. The curve of her mouth broadened further as she wondered in the darkness what those who had known her best might have had to say about so mature a notion coming from her; perhaps that this so-called old lady had learned a thing or two after all.

She fixed her gaze upon the ornate bassinet, at the precious bundle swaddled in primrose and sleeping within.

Yes, she'd learned a thing or two.

She reached down, lifted the infant gently to her and eased into the mahogany rocker nearby. As she covered them both with the butter-colored afghan folded neatly across the chair's back, the baby stirred and nuzzled with a tiny sigh against her bosom, drawing plump little hands and feet up tight like a snail curling into its shell. Soft breath drifted across the woman's face, smelling sweetly of milk and lavender.

She hugged the baby closer, to brace against the familiar shudder of remorse as came once more the often overwhelming clamor of faces and voices of everyone and everything that had conveyed her to that moment. More importantly, more painfully than merely seeing or hearing them, she felt them. So much sadness, and so much of it her fault.

She closed her eyes and with solemn effort pushed back against the deluge. Surrendering to it anew would do no one any good.

The old woman traced adoring fingers through the wispy patch of golden curls on the baby's small warm head, then pressed her mouth to one delicate pink petal of an ear.

"This is not the first time you've heard this," she whispered. "Nor, I hope, will it be the last ... "

Somewhere in the depths of the mansion sounded a dull, distant chime, reminding any who might still be awake that midnight fast approached.

A Sister to Butterflies, Chapter One

This is not the first time you've heard this. Nor, I hope, will it be the last.

What's amusing — or shameful, depending on how you come to see it — is that just as I thought I'd sufficiently untangled my mind to tell my tale, I still find myself uncertain where best to begin. Part of me wishes not to have to begin at all, since you're far too tiny to understand what I'm saying anyhow. The rest of me knows this is really much more for my own benefit than yours — for the time being, anyhow — and that as far as penance goes what I've apportioned myself can hardly be considered severe. So, for both our sakes, I'll muddle through as best I can. Again.

The first thing I should explain if what I have to tell you is ever to make any sense is that, contrary to a growing consensus, there are indeed other worlds than this. A great many people take a great deal of comfort from believing that what can be reconciled with their eyes and ears constitutes the summation of existence. I dearly hope you believe me when I say that creation is much too grand and complex a thing to contain but a single realm with a single way of being.

Some of these other worlds are far removed from here. Others press right up against this particular when and where but lie hidden; perhaps deep in the shadow of a high hill, or in the grooves of an oddly bent eddy in a brook, or even under your bed but only at a certain time of day. A drifting speck of dust flaring before a window in the afternoon sun just might be the birth, life and death of an entire civilization.

How can I state such things so unequivocally?

Because, you see, one of these other worlds is mine.

As much as it saddens me to think about my home, knowing that I no longer remember it correctly regardless how hard I may try is much worse. The distance between myself and what I once held most dear — the tall kaleidoscopic grasses of the countryside; the apricot scent of my father's pipe — has grown so great in so many ways that it's become all but nonsensical. It seems I've held this form for so long now that I cannot help picturing things in my mind as your kind does. There are colors there that simply do not exist anywhere else; hues so vibrant and shades so subtle no mortal could ever appreciate them, and thus are now beyond me even in my imagination.

Ah, well. I digress. Besides, my tale begins not so much with my world itself as it does with what lies at its edge, with what separates it from yours:

A shimmering veil of mist.